Iraqi security forces say they have arrested the “mufti of ISIS,” Shifa al-Nima, who loomed large over the Islamic State group as a religious figure who issued fatwas against several Muslim historic sites.
Al-Nima, whose actual name is Abu Abdul Bari, encouraged ISIS members to attack security forces and destroy historic sites during their reign over large swaths of Iraq, the Jerusalem Post reports.
Al-Nima was arrested in the Mosul area of northern Iraq, according to a statement issued by Nineveh police last week. The cleric was loaded into the back of a pickup truck following his arrest, according to reports.
“He is considered one of the foremost leaders of ISIS and was responsible for issuing fatwas that led to the murder of scholars and clerics,” police said, according to the Post’s translation.STORY CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
Among those fatwas was an order targeting the Mosque of the Prophet Younis (or Jonah), which is said to be the final resting place of Jonah, who escaped a whale in the Bible. The mosque in Mosul was destroyed in 2014.
Photos circulating on social media after al-Nima’s arrest purport to show him being loaded into a pickup truck by security forces. Among those who shared the photos was Maajid Nawaz, a British activist and founder of Quilliam, a counter-extremism think tank.
“He was so overweight, maybe from remaining sedantry [sic] in his hiding place, that he had to be taken by police in the back of a pickup truck,” Nawaz wrote on Twitter.
It’s unclear who captured the arrest photos, but Nineveh police have also released a censored image of al-Nima.
The purported photos of al-Nima’s arrest triggered a flood of Twitter jokes about his weight, with many users comparing him to Jabba the Hutt, the slug-like space gangster in Star Wars. Police may have helped inspire the comparison by referring to him as a member of the ISIS “gang.”
“Is that Jabba the Jihadi?” one user tweeted.
Nawaz pointed out in a Facebook post that al-Nima’s weight is symbolically embarrassing for ISIS. He says ISIS members tend to frown on gluttony, so al-Nima’s obesity strikes a “psychological blow” against the way they see themselves.
“ISIS branded themselves as fighters possessing rare courage & discipline,” Nawaz wrote. “Meanwhile this walrus was their top religious cleric.”
Iraqi and U.S. forces have continued their efforts to flush out ISIS in the region, despite recent tensions over the U.S. killing of an Iranian general in Iraq.
Security forces are trying to catch people like al-Nima amid the power vacuum created last October by the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.